Numerous candidate biomarkers in urine extracellular vesicles (EVs) have been described for kidney diseases, but none are yet in clinical use, possibly due to a lack of proper normalization. Proper normalization corrects for normal biological variation in urine flow rate or concentration, which can vary by over one order of magnitude. Here, we observed inter- and intra-animal variation in urine excretion rates of small EVs (<200 nm in diameter) in healthy rats as a series of six 4-h fractions. To visualize intra-animal variation, we normalized a small EV excretion rate to a peak excretion rate, revealing a circadian pattern for each rat. This circadian pattern was distinct from urine volume, urine albumin, urine creatinine, and urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio. Furthermore, urine small EV excretion was not significantly altered by sex, food/water deprivation, or ischemic acute kidney injury. Urine excretion of the exosomal/small EV marker protein tumor susceptibility gene 101 (TSG101) displayed a similar circadian pattern to urine small EV excretion; both measurements were highly correlated (R2 = 0.85), with an average stoichiometry of 10.0 molecules of TSG101/vesicle in healthy rats. The observed stoichiometry of TSG101/vesicle in rat urine translated to human spot urine samples (10.2 molecules/vesicle) and cultured kidney-derived cell lines (human embryonic kidney-293 and normal rat kidney 52E cells). Small EV number and its surrogate, TSG101 protein, can normalize for circadian variation when testing candidate biomarkers in small EVs. Just as creatinine has emerged as the customary normalization factor for liquid-phase urine biomarkers, vesicle number and its surrogate, molecules of exosome/small EV-associated TSG101, should be considered as viable, normalizing factors for small EV biomarkers.
Keywords: biomarker; exosomes; extracellular vesicles; stoichiometry; tumor susceptibility gene 101.